Phong Nha-Ke, Vietnam's best kept secret

Phong Nha-Ke, Vietnam’s best kept secret

Designated a Unesco World Heritage site back in 2003, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park spans 885 square kilometres of unspoilt jungle, caves and underground rivers. Home to the oldest karst mountains in Asia, which were formed 400 million years ago, the park is also famous for being riddled by mesmerizing underground rivers and hundreds of cave systems, including the world's largest cave Hang Son Doong (Son Doong Cave).


Thorough explorations began in the 90s when cavers from the British Cave Research Association and Hanoi University first penetrated deep into a Phong Nha Cave, which stands out for being of the longest cave systems in the world. Paradise Cave was discovered in 2005 and the world's largest cave - Son Doong - was discovered in 2009.

You can only access Phong Nha Cave by dragon boat from the little jetty in Phong Nha town. In Dark Cave (Hang Toi) you can zipline, explore through the mud, swim in the cold water and go kayaking. If you prefer a dry cavern, head to Paradise Cave, but don't let small entrance deceive you; it's a majestic cave. There, the stalactite and stalagmite formations will send you through the roof. If you are up for some exercise, Hang Va and Hang En require some demanding trekking.

Paradisiac landscapes

Many refer to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park as Vietnam's last paradise on Earth, and that's because above the ground, the park boasts nearly untouched tropical evergreen jungle, out of which 90% is primary forest.

The park is home to threatened large-antlered muntjacs, langurs, macaques and Asian black bears, apart countless birds, reptiles and amphibians. To keep this park protected, you can only see a part of the park. Although the park is free to enter, you might have to pay to see certain attractions.

Given the park's growing popularity, you might want to book overnight caving tours for Tur Lan, Hang va and Hang En in advance.

Tun Lam Cave

The Tu Lan cave trip starts with a countryside hike. You need an intermediate fitness level then to swim through two river caves before reaching a spectacular valley. You continue hiking through a lush rainforest until you reach a beach which is the meeting point of the two rivers.

Hang Toi

This tour is one of the most comprehensive adventures to be had in the park. You won't only get to swim into the cave, but you will also enjoy ziplining above-water to get here. You can also explore a pitch-black passageway of oozing mud. After visiting this cave, you can make it back to the jetty by paddling on a kayak.

Paradise Cave

Visiting this cave is a one-way ticket to Middle Earth. You'll feel like part of the fellowship of the ring when they enter the mines of moria. As you descend wooden stairs, you are greeted by titanic stalagmites and shimmering stalactites. If you want to go deeper inside Paradise Cave, book a tour which might include swimming through an underground river.

Hang En

Three kilometres from Hang Son Doong lies the third biggest cave in the world, Hang En. If you like trekking, this is a great opportunity to explore the area and camp in this colossal cave beside an underground river. You must be prepared, however, to hike 12 kilometres through the jungle.

Scenic Drive

One of the activities you can undertake is a scenic drive through the park which is an absolute treat to the senses. From your window, you'll be amazed by wet tropical evergreen forest clinging to craggy karst. If you are lucky, you might also see langurs or other creatures. You can also accreate this drive from a two-wheeled vehicle as the breeze brushes your face. From your motorbike, you will enjoy more seeing the ethereal scenery of flat rice fields framed by massive karst sprouting from the earth. Then head down the Bong Lai Valley and stop for a swim or at least for a bite.


You might want to avoid embarking on a journey to the Phong Nha area from September to November as it is the rainy season and the valleys might get heavily flooded, and thus some treks and caves are off limits. During the dry season from February to August, however, streams can dry up. If you are planning on camping near caves,you might want to avoid trekking from December to February as it can be very damp and cold, particularly at night. If you are a trekker at heart, the best time to visit this park would be from February to May where you will find pleasant temperatures accompanied by drier conditions.